Whether you're a teenager who's an aspiring author or an adult with a youthful attitude, the teen magazine market welcomes freelancers twho know how to spin a story, share "been there/done that" experiences, or chat about current trends and events affecting the lives of today's high school students. Although columns related to fashion, hair and makeup, relationship advice, and the music scene are usually staff-written, most editors of YA publications are receptive to pitches from newcomers that reflect a keen understanding of their target demographic and fit the needs of their upcoming editorial calendars.
Research what teens are reading by checking out the YA section of magazine racks at your local supermarket or bookstore. Some of the popular titles you'll see are "Seventeen magazine," "Cosmo Girl," "Twist," "Bop," "Tiger Beat" and "J-14." Skim the content to determine if articles are primarily general interest or focus on specific topics and themes. Examples: "American Cheerleader" revolves around cheering, health, nutrition and competitions. "Twist" is all about celebrities, the latest fashions and popular culture. "Thrasher" is all about skateboarding and snowboarding techniques, events and athlete profiles.
Purchase copies of teen magazines you want to write for in order to familiarize yourself with their overall tone, language, complexity of topics, and use of illustrations. To get the most out of this exercise, it's critical to study at least three months' worth of back issues to determine if they've recently covered the topics you'd like to write about. If the magazines have an online presence--"Seventeen", for instance-- you can usually find back issues under their archives tab or use the search button function to type in your topic and find past articles.
Study the magazine's submission guidelines carefully. You have several options here. The first is to look in the front pages of the magazine and see if the guidelines are listed there. If not, you can write a letter or send an email to the editorial department and request a copy of the guidelines along with their editorial calendar which lists the themes of upcoming issues. Sometimes submission information is posted on line. An example of this is "TeenInk," which is written entirely by teenagers (see Resources). Another option is to check out "Writer's Market" (published annually by Writer's Digest Books), which lists detailed submission information including desired word counts, time frames, and names of editorial staff. Follow submission requirements to the letter (see Tips).
Compose your story, interview, essay or how-to piece with a tight focus that never loses sight of the target reader's interest, imagination and intelligence. (See Warnings.) Use the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level function in your Word program to determine if the language you're using is appropriate for the age of the magazine's readers. Test your material on actual teens and pay attention to their feedback.
Subscribe to publications such as Children's Writer Newsletter. (See Resources.) This monthly newsletter identifies YA markets that are receptive to new voices, offers comprehensive how-to advice on structuring articles and stories, and provides interviews with agents, editors and publishers who candidly share their likes and dislikes about writer submissions. Article sidebars further contain the full contact information of industry professionals profiled in each issue.
Teen magazines vary in terms of how much they want to see from a first-time contributor and they will specify this in their guidelines. This can range from a short (one-page) query letter that outlines the idea, sample clips of previously published work, or the full story or article.
Always respect a magazine's desired word counts for submissions. If they only accept short fiction up to 500 words, do not send them your 10,000-word manuscript.
Fillers that are between 100 and 300 words have a better chance of being published than lengthier pieces. This represents a good way for a newcomer to break in and get her name known to editors.
While many of today's teen magazines accept email queries and submissions, it's essential that the same rules of formality apply as if you were sending a traditional letter. If you do send a snail-mail letter, always include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Keep in mind that teen magazines aren't just read by teenagers; they're also eagerly grabbed up by "tweens"--the 10-, 11- and 12-year olds who want a sneak peek at what awaits them as high schoolers.
If you're not a teenager, don't try to talk like one. Nor should your tone be that of an authoritative figure given to lectures.